I have an idea for a brand new type of newspaper feature. And gosh do newspapers need one. No industry in living memory has collapsed faster than daily print journalism. You can still buy a buggy whip, which is more than can be said for a copy of the Rocky Mountain News, Cincinnati Post, or Seattle Post-Intelligencer. One would think that a business in such dire condition would be—for desperation’s sake—wildly innovative. But newspapers exhibit a fossilization of form and content that’s been preserved in sedimentary rock since the early 1970s when the “Women’s Pages” were converted to the “Leisure Section.” General Motors itself showed more inventive originality on its way to Chapter 11, as the two people who bought Pontiac Azteks can attest.
Readers are fleeing newspapers. What are newspapers offering to lure them back? Out-of-register color photographs have replaced blurry black and white pics. More working women and black people appear in comic strips. (Although comparisons to Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” and Al Capp’s “L’il Abner” show, if anything, a decline in the social relevance of the funny pages, “Marmaduke” always excepted.) Various versions of “Dr. Gridlock” have been instituted so that when you get to work and open your morning paper you can see why you didn’t get to work. That avant-garde broadsheet the New York Times supplemented its dull “Corrections” with a “Public Editor” who combines pomposity with groveling as only a New York Times editor can. And, in “Styles of the Times,” Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust have been crossbred with Anna Wintour to produce something for famously overdressed people with scary romantic entanglements that’s known in the trade as the Gay Sports Pages. Then there’s Sudoku. (Tip for silencing airplane seatmates: Take out a Friday Sudoku and rapidly fill every box in ink—it’s not like they’ll check if your numbers are right.)
One bright idea isn’t going to solve the problems of the American newspaper industry, but it’s one bright idea more than the American newspaper industry has had in 40 years. What I propose is “Pre-Obituaries”—official notices that certain people aren’t dead yet accompanied by brief summaries of their lives indicating why we wish they were.
Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 7 June 2010)